MANHATTAN, Kan. - For the second time this month, Kansas State will travel north to take on Nebraska in a mid-week game on Tuesday, March 27, beginning at 6:35 p.m., at Hawks Field. It marks the second of three games between the Wildcats and Huskers this year as NU will travel to Manhattan on April 3 in the series finale. The game can be heard in the Manhattan area on SportsRadio 1350 KMAN with Brian Smoller and Matt Walters on the call. Free live audio is also available online at both www.k-statesports.com and www.1350kman.com.
The game against the Huskers is the first non-conference action for K-State since March 14 after its midweek contest against Creighton last week was rained out. The Wildcats will be looking to bounce back from a series loss at home last weekend to No. 21 Texas. Kansas State won the Friday-night contest, 5-2, thanks to stellar pitching from Matt Applegate, Gerardo Esquivel and Nate Williams. The Cats were led by Ross Kivett’s 3-for-3 game with two runs scored, while Jake Brown was 2-for-2 with a pair of RBI. It marked the second-straight Friday-night win in Big 12 play over a ranked opponent as the Wildcats topped No. 8 Texas A&M, 15-12, the week before.
However, just like the series against the Aggies, K-State dropped the final two games to the Longhorns. UT won a 6-4 decision in 11 innings on Saturday thanks to a pair of RBI singles in the 11th. On Sunday, K-State fought back from a 4-1 deficit to tie the game, but UT scored twice in both the seventh and ninth innings en route to an 8-5 win.
K-STATE AT A GLANCE Kansas State has remained consistent at the plate as it is third in the Big 12 with a .303 batting average. The Wildcats hold three of the top six hitters in the conference, including Jared King, who leads the league with a .434 batting average - 16 points better than the second-leading hitter. Wade Hinkle is fourth at .365, while Matt Giller is sixth at .362. The K-State offense has also found a way to get on base in a multitude of ways as it is third in the league in hits (240) and leads the conference in both walks (130) and on-base percentage (.418).
Ross Kivett and Tanner Witt - K-State’s leadoff and No. 9 hitters - have each produced as of late. Kivett went 7-for-11 with a double and five runs scored in the three-game set against Texas. He carded a pair of three-hit games in the series opener and series finale, scoring two runs in each contest. Witt has raised his average 105 points over the last eight games by going 14-for-28 with two doubles, a triple and 10 runs scored.
The Wildcats are expected to start right-hander Matt Wivinis on Tuesday. The freshman holds a 1-0 record with a 4.20 ERA in 15.0 innings of work as his win came in his only start against Hartford, a predetermined pitch-count start when he allowed two runs on three hits with no walks and six strikeouts in 4.1 innings.
The K-State bullpen is led by a nucleus of young pitchers in freshmen Nate Williams and Robert Youngdahl, as well as sophomore Gerardo Esquivel. Williams has seen action in 10 games this season, holding a 0-1 record and a 2.35 ERA. He suffered his first loss on Saturday, pitching the final three innings and allowing the two 11th-inning runs. However, the right-hander came into the game on fire as he retired the first six batters he faced in the game after picking up the save on Friday night. Youngdahl has struggled in conference play, but has not allowed a run against non-league foes in 8.1 innings of work. Esquivel has worked exclusively out of the bullpen in his last seven games, and he tossed four scoreless innings in two games against Texas. DID YOU KNOW • K-State has a .400 or better on-base percentage in 14 games this season, holding a 12-2 mark in those games. • The Wildcats have worked at least five walks in 16 games this year, going 11-5 in those games. • The Cats are 224-17 when leading after seven frames during Brad Hill’s eight-plus years in Manhattan, including a 12-1 mark this season. • First baseman Wade Hinkle hit two grand slams two weeks ago, the first Wildcat to hit two in a week since Todd Fereday hit two in a single game in 1994. • Hinkle has drawn 17 walks in 2012 after just 11 in 43 games played last season. • Sophomore Ross Kivett went 7-for-11 last weekend against Texas, his most hits in a conference series and the most by a Wildcat against the Longhorns since Nick Martini had seven vs. UT in 2009.
FINDING A WAY TO GET ON BASE Kansas State has been one of the best teams this season in terms of getting on base. The Wildcats currently lead the Big 12 with a .418 team on-base percentage, thanks to the fact that they lead the conference with 130 walks and were fourth nationally in that category following play last week. The Wildcats have recorded a team on-base percentage of at least .400 in 14 games this season, going 12-2 in those contests. The season high for K-State is a .558 mark against Hartford on March 9.
K-State has recorded five or more walks in 16 games this year, going 11-5 in those contests, as it ranks fifth nationally with 130 free passes. The Cats have also tallied at least 10 walks on three occasions and hold a perfect 3-0 mark in those games.
NEEDING THE CLUTCH HIT Although the Wildcats have been proficient in getting on base, K-State is still looking to consistently record timely hitting as it has averaged 9.3 runners left on base in its 23 games. The Wildcats have stranded at least 10 runners on 10 occasions, including a season-high 16 against Hartford on March 10.
NEBRASKA AT A GLANCE Nebraska enters Tuesday’s game with a 17-9 record following a series win over Illinois in its first-ever Big Ten series. The three-game set featured big wins by each team as the Illini won the first game, 11-3, before the Huskers came back with wins of 18-5 and 13-3.
Thanks to their 33 hits in the series - including 14 on Sunday - the Huskers are hitting .329 as a team this season with 87 extra-base hits, including 26 home runs. Nebraska is paced at the plate by junior infielder Josh Scheffert, who is hitting .409 with three homers and 15 RBI. Chad Christensen, the third-leading hitter on the team at .389, has seven doubles, two triples and leads the team in both home runs (6) and RBI (33). Richard Stock is tops on the squad in doubles with eight, while he is hitting .358.
Nebraska is expected to start right-hander Brandon Pierce on Tuesday. In 14 games this season - all out of the bullpen - the sophomore holds a 2-1 record and a 2.65 ERA, allowing six earned runs on 13 hits with 12 walks and 11 strikeouts in 17 innings of work. His last outing was on Friday night when he allowed a run on three hits in 0.2 innings. Pierce threw 0.1 innings against the Wildcats when the two teams met on March 6, allowing two hits and a walk.
The Nebraska bullpen is led by Dylan Vogt, Tyler King and Travis Huber. King has been used 12 times this season, compiling a 3.60 ERA. He worked one inning against K-State earlier in the month, allowing three runs (one earned) with a hit and a walk. Vogt holds a 1-1 record and a team-best 1.37 ERA in his 11 games. He had the most success against the Wildcats in the first meeting, throwing two scoreless innings with two walks and two strikeouts. Huber leads the team with three saves and holds a 0-2 record with a 3.75 ERA. He last save came against Kansas State when he pitched a scoreless ninth inning with two strikeouts.
THE NEBRASKA SERIES Tuesday’s meeting between K-State and Nebraska is the second of three this season after K-State lost a 9-6 decision in Lincoln earlier this month. Nebraska, which will travel to Manhattan on April 3, leads the season series, 164-106, following its win on March 6. In that game, the Huskers recorded a pair of four-run innings and held off a late K-State charge for the three-run victory.
Kansas State, which is 38-86 against the Huskers in Lincoln, is 36-186 all-time against current members of the Big Ten, but holds a 30-22 record against the conference outside of its history with Nebraska. K-State swept a two-game series at Minnesota, March 13 and 14, by scores of 9-5 and 8-4.
SOLID AGAINST NON-CON K-State’s play against non-conference opponents over the last three-plus seasons has fueled the Wildcats to quick starts. Kansas State is 197-71 (.735) in non-conference games under head coach Brad Hill, including an 87-34 (.719) mark over the last three-plus seasons. In regular season non-conference games, the Cats have been even tougher as they are 187-56 (.770) over the last eight-plus years and a combined 79-23 (.775) since the start of 2009.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN... Tuesday’s game at Nebraska marks the 13th road contest for the Wildcats this season as they are 6-6 in their first 12 true road games. The .500 record is the second-best mark through 12 true road games in head coach Brad Hill’s nine seasons at K-State. In 2009, the Wildcats were 7-5 in the first 12 games on hostile turf, while the 2006 squad was 5-6-1 and three other teams (2007, 2010, 2011) were 5-7.
PRODUCTION WITH TWO OUTS Kansas State has done a majority of its damage this season late in innings as 40-percent of its RBI (60-of-150) have come with two outs, including 47 in its 13 wins. Against San Diego State on Feb. 25, the Wildcats totaled nine two-out RBI, the most since recording 14 against Northern Colorado on March 30, 2010. Additionally, K-State collected seven in a win at No. 8 Texas A&M, four of which came on a grand slam by Wade Hinkle.
Individually, Hinkle leads the way with 13 after 13 all of last season. Jared King is second with nine, and Dan Klein is third with eight after adding two on a home run Saturday against No. 21 Texas.